We're very close to the time of the season at which the Cubs guarantee that Anthony Rizzo, Brett Jackson and other prospects who could be called up won't become super-two players. While the first game after the all-star break happens to be that date this season, it's highly unlikely any prospect called up now would qualify. So who are the Cubs going to call up over the coming weeks?
Anthony Rizzo is the obvious one. He's probably only days away from being called up. Rizzo has boarded a plane and has left the Iowa Cubs to head to Chicago. While Bryan LaHair still has a .384 wOBA, he's slumped in June thanks to only a 7% walk rate and a strikeout rate over 36%. We should see LaHair bounce back. June's stats are a very small sample size and it would be silly to evaluate what to do with LaHair based on his worst month of the season.
When Rizzo comes up, LaHair has to go somewhere else. It will be rather easy finding LaHair a home in the outfield. Alfonso Soriano has been impressive this season all things considered. He's posted a .342 wOBA (111 wRC+), +8 UZR and 2.0 fWAR. Total Zone doesn't think as much of his defense and he's been worth only .9 rWAR. Still, if you'd told me on Opening Day that Soriano would be worth a win by this point in the season I'd have said no way.
The Cubs would obviously like to trade Soriano and his remaining 2+ years of club control, but it's not going to be easy. He has a surplus trade value of -$24.25 million so the Cubs will have to send at least that much to get anyone to talk. More than likely they'll have to send a lot more than that because I imagine he'll be viewed as a DH and therefore have less future value. The Cubs have already tried to trade Soriano and failed so I'm going to assume they fail again. Despite that, the Cubs still have other places in the OF LaHair can go.
David DeJesus has been league average at the plate, but below average defensively according to both UZR and Total Zone. His rWAR is .5 and his fWAR is .4. It's hard to image the Cubs replace him though I could see him traded at the deadline. My guess is the Cubs shift him to CF and put LaHair in RF where he's recently played.
It's a waste of time talking about the other outfielders in depth. Reed Johnson has been better than Joe Mather and Tony Campana and that really says it all. There's a place for LaHair in the outfield and the Cubs will find room for him. That place is likely to be RF.
If you're wondering what we can expect from Rizzo at the big league level there's really only one answer: who the **** knows? Going back to 2009 we get these numbers for Rizzo.
2009 A: .390 wOBA, 144 wRC+, 287 PA
2009 A+: .357, 120, 229 PA
2010 A+: .363, 123, 135 PA
2010 AA: .361, 120, 467 PA
2011 AAA: .433, 149, 413 PA
2011 MLB: .248, 59, 153 PA
2012 AAA: .466, 180, 278 PA
Rizzo has been consistently above average in his minor league career and damn good at times. We can definitely expect some regression as he moves up to MLB and simply because it's unlikely he really was a .466 wOBA hitter in AAA. The expectations for this kid are through the roof. Of all the Cubs prospects I've followed in my years of being a Cubs fan, I can't think of another one whose expectations were so high. Mark Prior comes the closest, but I'm not even sure his were as high as Rizzo's are right now. There might have been higher expectations for Corey Patterson, but other than him I can't think of a single player.
The better question might not be what we can expect from Rizzo, but whether or not Rizzo can live up to the expectations others have for him? The answer to this question is almost always no. If he struggles in his first 150 plate appearances how many fans are going to be looking at his 300 PA sample at the big league level and completely ignoring what he did at the minor league level? It's obviously stupid. Rizzo is a very good ballplayer and should be productive player for the Cubs for several years. But the big league team sucking and Rizzo's performance in the minors has placed unreasonable expectations on him.
You have to look hard to find something in Rizzo's performance that stands out in a negative way. The only thing that does stand out is that his walk rate was down to 7.9%. it had been at 10 or so since 2009 so it's not a huge drop, but it's a noticeable one.
Rizzo won't be the only one the Cubs call up this season. Brett Jackson is the next obvious choice, but that muddies the water a bit for Bryan LaHair. If Jackson comes up and takes over in CF, DeJesus returns to RF and LaHair is without a position. The Cubs could trade Soriano or DeJesus and that would change things, but right now I just don't see Jackson coming up. The Cubs are going to put LaHair in the outfield (probably RF), move DeJesus to CF and keep Soriano unless some team really wants him. We'll talk more about Jackson next month as I think his call-up is delayed a bit to see if the Cubs can clear some space in the outfield.
Third base has been a black hole of suck this year for the Cubs. Ian Stewart, Luis Valbunea and the transformative season of Joe Mather have hit like they belong in AAA.
Josh Vitters has hit .286/.336/.481 for AAA Iowa in 283 plate appearances this year. While his OPS is just a bit above average for the league, he is still quite young at 22. He has more to work on and will never be all that great a player. He doesn't walk much, he has no speed whatsoever (19 SB in 1953 PA, 18 CS, 7 triples) and questionable enough defense that has led to him seeing some action at 1st base already. His walk rate will never allow him to get on base much higher than his batting average so he'll be relying on his ability to hit for power. HIs career slugging is just .445 and it's only .479 in the hitter friendly PCL. He's hit 58 home runs in his career and has 113 doubles in nearly 2000 plate appearances.
Despite that, he might not be any worse than the three the Cubs have run out there all season long. He might even be a bit better. He's played well enough at AAA and thanks to the black hole at 3rd base I see no reason why the Cubs shouldn't call him up in the near future. He's someone I wouldn't even worry about becoming a super two player because I think it's unlikely he sticks on MLB roster for the next 2+ seasons. More than likely he'll be sent back down at some point so I see no risk in calling him up.
One thing I noticed with Vitters is that Fangraphs has his walk rate at 5.7%, but they include intentional walks. I noticed this after looking at his page on Statcorner and his UBB% (NIBB% is what I call it) is 4.3%, which is the same as last season and lower than 2010. Statcorner also has a few discipline numbers. His swing% is 52.9%. MLB average is about 45.5%. His Mis% (swing and miss) is 20.3% while MLB average is 18.5%. His TkS% (called strike) is 25.9% while MLB average is 31%. MLB average isn't necessarily PCL average, but it's probably not that far off. Vitters is going to swing the bat. A lot. His swing and miss rate right now is higher than what the MLB average is, but it might be right about average in the PCL.
Regardless of the numbers, it's not like any of the other 3rd baseman is making a claim to the position and Vitters is who Vitters is going to be.